So, the Great Game goes on.
Such was the title given to the imperial rivalry over Afghanistan in the 19th century.
The US is but the latest foreign invader to spend blood and treasure on Afghanistan, a landlocked but strategic mountainous country that has been the target of empires past and recent.
Britain fought two wars in the 19th Century to keep the Russians out, and another in 1919 that resulted in Afghan independence.
The Russians invaded three times in the 20th Century, the last in 1979 during the Cold War before retreating a decade later at the hands of US and Saudi-backed Mujahideen, from which emerged the Taliban.
Yes, the ironies are rich.
Now the Americans and their allies, including the British, again, and Australia are gone, and the Taliban are back, practically without a fight.
The images from Kabul airport and people hanging on to the wheels of planes before plunging to their deaths are heartbreaking, as is the prospect of Islamic fundamentalist rule snuffing out the aspirations of women and girls.
For the Australian troops who served in Afghanistan over the 20 years of the war, and believed in the evolving mission, the result must be galling.
The harsh lessons of history failed to stop that mission creep and the attempt to impose a Western-style pluralist democratic model on a deeply divided, conservative tribal country.
The countryside in particular, where the Taliban was so strong, was never going to go along with such social upheaval, at least not in such a relatively short time.
Short of perpetual occupation, the West could not outlast a committed enemy who evaporated into the mountains and across the border into a Pakistan that was playing the Game too.
Ostensibly a US ally, Pakistan has been double-dealing from the start, offering succour and shelter to the Taliban, and now having influence in Kabul.
The Americans have never shown a propensity to genuinely support a country to stand on its own two feet. Much of the billions of dollars it splashes about tend to be spent on their own kind, the contractors who follow the troops like vultures.
Even the Afghan Army’s kit and weapons were going to be useless eventually without US support if it had decided to fight.
From rooting out Bin Laden to remaking Afghanistan in their image, the American (and our) war was always going to end in tears.
But, as with Vietnam, we now have debts and responsibilities.
The failure of intelligence or just plain taking the eye of the ball that did not predict the rapidity of the Taliban advance has left many Afghans who helped Australia stranded, or if they are lucky, waiting desperately at Kabul airport to be rescued.
We need to do all we can to help them, and the thousands of others who will be displaced.
Australia needs to do our bit in the international resettlement programs, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is talking of taking about 3,000 this financial year.
But at the same press conference, without prompting, he raised the spectre of boats heading towards our shores.
“I also confirm that those who are IMAs [Illegal Maritime Arrivals], those who have not come to Australia the right way and are on temporary visas in Australia, they will not be offered permanent residence in Australia,” he said.
“That will not change. I want to be very clear about that. I want to send a very clear message to people smugglers in the region that nothing’s changed. I will not give you a product to sell and take advantage of people’s misery. My Government won’t do it. We never have, and we never will.”
It was a completely unnecessary and politically charged diversion from what should have been a statement of Australian compassion.
Afghanistan itself may again fall into civil war, the Taliban unable to govern, especially with the country’s assets frozen.
Or the other big players in the region – China and Russia – may roll the dice to secure a stake in the country, rich as it is in the rare earths and lithium required for the post-petroleum age.
But that is unlikely to be a military play. An isolated Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will be looking for wealthy but pragmatic friends, uninterested in domestic matters or human rights, and both fit the bill.
The Game is on.